Since being crowned a year ago, Miss Indiana USA 2015 Gretchen Reece has traveled all around the country wearing her crown and sash.
Of all of the places she went, the 24-year-old Jennings County native said it always was nice to come back close to home.
On Nov. 19, she was the guest at Girl Scout Troop 1239’s meeting at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour.
While sharing information about herself and her crowning moment, Reece helped the 12 young girls earn Girl Scout badges through the Make Your Own Badge program.
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First, they picked a topic, “The Shoes Women Wear.” Then, they had to find out about all of the “shoes” Reece “wore” each day as Miss Indiana 2015, why she chose the path she chose, what she wants to do in the future and what traits and aspirations she had at the girls’ ages.
The next step was to invite Reece to talk to them, and then they were able to interview her and share that experience with the community.
The final part was to make a badge, and the design they chose was a pair of shoes with wings on them. At the end of the visit, Reece signed the girls’ certificates, showing that she helped them finish it.
Troop leader Missy Casner said she knew a couple of Reece’s family members and had followed her progress when she was in the Miss USA pageant.
“I was following her online and was watching one of the videos, and she had related to the shoes that she wears, the shoes women wear,” Casner said. “I thought, ‘Wow! That would be a really cool badge to do to talk about you don’t have to do just one thing, you don’t have to focus on just this or focus on that.’”
Being a Brownie at a younger age, Reece said it meant a lot to her to visit with the Girl Scouts. She said the girls asked some interesting questions.
“It’s so funny to speak to this age group because everything is very black and white with them,” she said.
“They are just very honest, and it’s just very refreshing to talk to them,” she said. “I like that they are so candid and they are so open and they don’t think too much about who you are or why you might be important. You are just another person to them.”
Olivia Reinhart, 10, a member of Troop 1239, said she liked learning about Reece, getting to hold her crown and receiving an autographed picture.
“It was so exciting. I was so happy,” Olivia said with a big smile.
Fellow Girl Scout Mia Prewitt, 9, said she found out she had several things in common with Reece, including they both love horses and playing basketball and their favorite Girl Scout cookie is Thin Mints.
“I was really excited,” Mia said. “I thought it was exciting for us to meet her.”
Casner said it also was a good opportunity for Reece to share information about the various service projects she helped during her reign because Troop 1239 is active in helping local organizations.
“My girls are really into pets,” Casner said. “I think they think, ‘Pets, pets, pets.’ I’m not saying that’s bad, but I really want to give them more options than just that, so I thought (Reece’s information) would help.”
Casner said she thought the girls benefited from Reece’s visit.
“They all got out there and asked questions, and they interacted. Some of them don’t get that,” she said. “I try with my girls to give them any opportunity to succeed.”
Reece said she started doing pageants in 2009 when she was a junior at Jennings County High School. That year, she won the county fair queen pageant and went on to compete in the state fair competition.
After that, she focused on her senior year of high school and then started classes at Butler University. During her sophomore year of college, she decided she needed some extra money for expenses, so she started competing in the Miss America program, which gives a lot of scholarships.
She did that for two years before taking a break and then getting into the Miss USA program, which incorporates one of her areas of interest — modeling.
Winning a title such as Miss Indiana USA never was a goal, she said.
“It was just something that my life kind of headed that direction with modeling, and then it just kind of happened for me,” she said. “A lot of the way I look at things, especially things that I don’t plan in life, is it’s just meant to be. This is just the avenue that God intended my life to take, so I’m just doing everything that I can with it.”
Reece said she still remembers her crowning moment in early November 2014.
“It was all very surreal,” she said. “I always say that the things you don’t expect are the ones that hit you the hardest, and I never expected to win. So for me, that moment of actually hearing it happen is so, so surreal. It’s like it happened five minutes ago. You can still feel all of the emotion that you felt.”
Soon after, she began fulfilling her responsibilities as Miss Indiana USA.
“It was such a vast amount of responsibility that hits you immediately, and if you’re not ready for it, it can take you to your knees,” she said. “It’s just important to stay grounded and know who you are before that public persona hits you and you become another person because you still have to be yourself the whole time.”
One purpose of Miss USA is to select the American entrant in the Miss Universe pageant. Each year, the organization selects causes for its participants to help.
This year, they included United Service Organizations, which provides programs, services and entertainment to military members and their families, and Project Sunshine, which provides programs to children and families with medical challenges.
Reece also had opportunities to speak to young people about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, a cause that she said is close to her heart.
In July, Reece represented Indiana in the Miss USA 2015 pageant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She earned the title of Miss Photogenic USA, which goes to someone who “exemplifies beauty through the lens of a camera,” and was awarded a $1,000 cash prize.
This weekend, Reece will crown Miss Indiana USA 2016. She said that will be bittersweet.
“I recognize that my time has come to an end and that it’s very much time for somebody else who has a different avenue of interest to bring light to things, it’s time for someone else to do the job,” she said. “But at the same time, you always hope that it’s going to be someone who is as service-oriented as you were and as focused on actually doing something with the crown and sash as opposed to just wearing it.”
Reece is now working on her master’s degree in speech pathology through the University of Northern Colorado.
She said she expects her experience as Miss Indiana USA 2015 to help as she works toward a career in that field.
“It really pushes you to go out and do things and make a difference and make things happen,” she said.
“It very much took me from being someone who watched things happen to making things happen because you can’t be someone who sits on the sidelines and watches things go by with this job,” she said. “You have to very much be a doer, so I think that having had this job, that will be the biggest thing that will come to me or impact me, is that I will probably always go out and chase things. It has made me a lot more ambitious than I ever thought that I would be.”